My word of the year for 2019 is Sustainable, and while I think of it as broader than just the environment, that’s really where the idea started. Over the past year or so, I’ve been making an extended effort to be more conscious of the environment and the impact I’m making. We’ve only got one planet, and we’re not doing a very good job taking care of it!
As I’ve learned more about sustainability and making better choices, there are some go-to sustainability practices I’ve picked up along the way. Some are specific, and some are pretty broad and can be applied to many different facets of your life.
Use Something Up Before Buying Something New
My overall sustainability principle, if you will, is that the most sustainable items are ones you already own.
I don’t care if glass jars might be better for the environment than the perfectly good plastic storage you’re using. Use the plastic storage until you can’t any more, and then (and only then!) replace it with something more sustainable.
A classic example of this is dog poop bags. Do you already have the giant box of Amazon Basics plastic dog poop bags? Then don’t throw them all out in leu of ~compostable dog poop bags~. Your dog’s poop will need to be thrown out, anyway. You might as well use the plastic bags you have on hand before buying something better for the environment.
This also applies to plastic bags from the grocery store! If you mess up and forget to bring reusable bags or don’t ask for paper bags until it’s too late, just take the plastic bags and reuse them in place of something else. Dog poop, trash bag liner, etc. Make it useful before you throw it in the trash!
Also, compostable dog poop bags don’t actually make that much sense, unless you’re able to take them to a commercial compost facility. Animal waste can’t be composted, so those compostable dog poop bags will just end up in a landfill anyway, where they can’t decompose. But more on that in a bit.
Basically, the idea is to not go to the grocery store and use up what you have on hand instead. It greatly reduces your food waste and saves you money—a win win!
Often we get so wrapped up in the habit of going to the grocery store every weekend that we don’t stop to think… do I actually need any more food right now? If you stop and think for a little bit, the answer is probably no.
I’ve been unofficially doing a No-Grocery Challenge throughout the month of February, and it’s been really great! I’ve made a few small trips to the store, but overall I’m trying to use up what we have on hand. We’ve spent way less on groceries than in previous months, and I’m getting to play around with different recipe ideas. Lately I’ve been all about fried rice!
Keep in mind that your fridge doesn’t have to be full to mean you have a ton of food on hand! Instagram photos of fully stocked fridges can make you feel a little unprepared if you can see the back of the fridge, but that isn’t always the case. Just look around and think outside the box for meal ideas. You might be surprised!
Ever since Sean and I started composting almost two years ago, I’ve been obsessed. My parents composted when I was little, but I didn’t really understand what it meant until I was older.
Food waste in the United States is huge. Americans throw out an average of 14-25% of the food they buy. What?! And you might be thinking, “oh but it’s not as bad for the environment as, say, plastic waste, because it decomposes. Right?”
In order to decompose, organic material needs oxygen. And when you put food in a plastic garbage bag and then bury it among thousands of pounds of other waste, it gets crushed under the big pile with no oxygen around it. So it just sits there, unable to decompose.
So the solution? Put less into the landfills! And while a No-Grocery Challenge will help you lower your food waste, there will inevitably be some food you have to dispose of (think: egg shells, the outer layers of onions, citrus peels, etc.). That’s where composting comes in!
You create your own compost bin(s) in your yard and give it lots of holes to allow oxygen flow. You also want to either put holes in the bottom or leave a bottom out of the design entirely so worms and spiders and other organisms can move in and help the decomposing process.
And once you fill up your bin, give it a few months, mix it up, and you’ve got nutrient-dense soil for your yard and garden! Obviously there’s more to it than that, but it’s really not too big of a process. I recommend this guide from Going Zero Waste to get started.
Choose the Slowest Shipping Option, or the Option with the Fewest Possible Packages
In the age of Amazon Prime, it’s so easy to receive the instant gratification of two-day shipping (or one-day or same-day, depending on your area!). But is it really necessary?
The thing is, those shipping options don’t take the most logical route; the goal is to get you the items as fast as possible, not to preserve the environment.
So the next time you order something online, consider the slowest shipping option, or at least the “ship items in the fewest number of packages” option. And when you can, wait a few days and order multiple items at the same time instead of one at a time as you think of them.
Support Local Businesses that are Sustainable
Sean and I love going out to eat and explore our town. There are so many amazing places in Kalamazoo to try out. And one of the amazing things we’ve found is how many places in town have sustainability as one of their core values.
Bell’s, for example, has a “trash” container for compostable materials and foods, and their actual trash container is labeled “Landfill” to remind you where that stuff in your hand is actually going.
Latitude 42 sources a bunch of their food locally in an effort to lower their environmental impact.
Kalamazoo Candle Company only makes candles in recyclable and reusable containers, and offers a wooden lid return program that supports local schools.
I feel way less guilty spending money when I know it’s supporting local businesses that are just as committed to the environment as I am.
Reuse Items, Even if You Don’t Get a Discount
And speaking of Kalamazoo Candle Company offering reusable jars, reuse the items you have, even if it doesn’t mean you get a discount.
I recently went to make candles and brought back old candle jars to use instead of brand new ones. Did I get a discount? No. Would that have been nice? Absolutely! But my goal was to consume less, not save money. Plus, I really liked the scents I made, so I was able to reuse the labels and it was in general a lot less work.
The same goes for coffee places. Plenty of coffee shops will offer a discount if you bring your own mug, but that shouldn’t be your driving motivator. reuse your mug anyway, even if you don’t get a discount for doing so!
Heat One Room of the House in the Winter
These next two practices were hard for me to adapt to, especially now that I’m back in Michigan, but after the initial growing pains, I’m totally on board with them.
When it’s really cold out, it’s temping to crank the heat and stay inside, pretending it’s not actually -17 outside. But it’s expensive, and you’re using up a bunch of energy in the process, which isn’t great for the environment.
However, I’m not saying you have to be freezing all winter! Lower your thermostat for the whole house, and then stay in one room as best as you can and use a space heater in there. Close the door and lock in all of the warmth!
I do this almost every day when I work. Our thermostat is set to 67, but I have a space heater in the office that I turn on until it’s warm enough that I can actually feel my hands.
Open the Windows in the Summer Instead of Using the Air Conditioner
And on the flip side, unless it’s unbearably hot and humid, open the windows instead of turning on the air conditioner! Depending on where you live, there should be plenty of airflow to keep your house on the cooler side.
Plus, a lot of it is just getting used to warmer weather. If you’re running your air conditioner, temps in the 70s will be unbearably warm in your house. But once you turn off your air and adapt to the heat, you’re suddenly much more able to stand temperatures in the 70s.
Use the Library!
And finally, use the dang library! It’s a free resource that enables you to read all the books, watch all the movies, etc. And the fewer items you buy, the less waste you’re creating.
Often, being more sustainable just means you’re making small habit shifts throughout your day-to-day schedule. They typically aren’t painful, but they can make an impact!
What are your favorite sustainability practices? I’m always looking for ways to improve, so let me know in the comments!